County approves budget with 3.8% tax rate increase

Overall tax levy rising by about $7million

GUELPH – Wellington County council has approved a 2023 budget with a 3.8 per cent tax rate increase anticipated to cost the average residential taxpayer an additional $24 per $100,000 of assessment.

The budget includes $246,082,100 in total spending, up $29,453,600 or 13.6% from $216,628,500 in 2022.

The total 2023 levy (amount raised through taxation) is just under $120.5 million, up from $113.5 million in 2022, an increase of about $7 million, or slightly more than 6%.

The budget, which has been on the agenda for council and committee meetings since December, was approved unopposed, with little discussion at the Jan. 26 meeting.

In a press release, Warden Andy Lennox stated the budget was passed under “extraordinarily challenging circumstances.

“This budget is aimed at striking a balance between limiting the cost impact to residents during a period with 40-year inflationary highs, while continuing to provide the necessary resources to deliver services and maintain infrastructure for our residents,” said Lennox.

Councillor Mary Lloyd stated, “To say we’re in challenging times sounds like a very small understatement to what individuals are facing now.”

She recommended aiming for a 2% tax rate increase during preliminary budget discussions on Dec. 1.

However, Lloyd said that during further budget discussions she came to recognize “The ramifications about pushing projects out,” on the long-term financial picture.

“I’m sad to see that we’re at 3.8 and I understand now why,” said Lloyd, adding the the 3.8% increase will have a “more than intended” impact on local residents.

The county’s 10-year forecast calls for tax rate increases averaging around 3.28% between 2024 and 2032, ranging from a high of 3.7% in 2026 to a low of 2.8% in 2032.

The levy is projected to rise from $120 million this year to about $180 million over 10 years.

The budget calls for $61.6 million in capital spending for 2023. The county’s spending on roads (54.2%) and social and affordable housing (23.1%) make up 77% of the current year’s capital projects.

Just over 63.3% of this year’s capital projects will be funded through reserves.

Additional funding sources include Canada Community Building Fund (7.2%), provincial and federal subsidies (11.3%), development charges (3.3%) and growth related debentures (6.6%).

An additional 8.9% of capital budget funding comes from money recovered from other municipalities for shared projects.

The largest portion of recovered funds are for projects in the areas of social services, where the county provides services on behalf of the City of Guelph, and in the roads department, where capital works on boundary roads and bridges are shared with neighbouring municipalities.

The budget report notes changes to the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) results in a significant redistribution of infrastructure funding amongst Wellington County municipalities.

While some member municipalities received increases, the county’s 2023 allocation has been reduced by over $500,000 annually.

“This results in a loss of $5.0 million in capital funding over the next 10-years and the county needed to adjust its tax levy contribution to capital reserves to account for the difference,” the report notes.

Major capital spending items for the current year include:

  • $33.4 million for roads, bridges, culverts and related equipment and facilities; and
  • $14.3 million in capital repairs and enhancements for social and affordable housing units, including $7.6 million to renovate a supportive housing facility at 65 Delhi Street in Guelph.

The capital budget also calls for expenditure of $6.5 million over 2023 and 2024 for the design and construction of a new Erin Library branch.

The 10-year capital plan calls for spending of $555.1 million on infrastructure and equipment.

This includes the construction of five ambulance stations, development of Riverstown landfill, construction the new Erin library branch, further investment in social housing (supported by grants from upper tier governments) and roads, including $35.1 million to complete the design and construction of public works facilities in Erin, Brucedale, Harriston and Aberfoyle.

On the operational side, the budget projects spending of $277.9 million in 2023.

Wages and benefits for the county’s 900 employees (746.7 full time equivalent), totalling roughly $77.8 million, make up 28% of the operational total.

The full-time equivalent staffing (FTE) compliment is projected to increase by 11.5, from 735.2 at the beginning of 2022 to 746.7 this year.

The budget includes a 5% economic adjustment for non-union members as of Jan. 1.

Staff additions include a cyber security analyst in the office of the CAO to enhance the county’s overall security position.

“This position will be the security expert for the county and will be responsible for completing security vulnerability assessments, reviewing security logs, investigating incidents and implementing best practices,” states a budget report from treasurer Ken DeHart.

The budget also includes increases to software and licenses ($167,000) as well as cyber security insurance ($69,000).

“These areas have seen significant escalations as a result of inflationary pressures, additional requirements for security upgrades and pricing increases across the industry,” the report notes.

Other staff additions include:

  • a budget and accounting coordinator in the treasury department;
  • a forest sustainability bylaw officer in the planning department;
  • a housing maintenance supervisor;
  • two part-time landfill site attendants and an equipment officer under solid waste services;
  • a truck and coach technician for the roads department; and
  • additional staff hours at library branches in Drayton and Palmerston.

After adjusting for offsetting staff reductions, subsidies and other savings, the staffing changes are expected to cost the county a net total of about $433,000.

Budget items highlighted by the county in a press release include:

  • $274.9 million for roads, bridges and culvert works over the next 10 years;
  • land ambulance service expansion including the addition of two supervisors at the Erin station and the four paramedics to improve service times across the county;
  • a significant reduction in child care fees for families supported through the federal Canada Wide Early Learning and Child Care Funding Agreement;
  • waste management enhancements including improvements to the Elora and Rothsay transfer stations; and
  • implementation of the Wellington Place Master Plan “to improve visitor experience.”

“County services have faced significant cost increases across the board, which are reflected in the budget,” said councillor Chris White, chair of the county’s administration, finance and human resources committee.

“The county’s forward-looking budget maintains a strong commitment towards infrastructure requirements despite significant challenges.”

Full details on the 2023 budget are available on the County of Wellington website.